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PFT's Week Two picks

[Editor’s note:  Each week, Rosenthal and I will go head to head,
picking the winner of each game.  The guy who does worse each week gets
to be the one to copy and paste together the text the next week.  Last week, we tied.  The NBC Competition Committee decided that I should have to copy and paste it all together again.  And so I’ll take the high road and accept the ruling.  In three days, after everyone applauds me for taking the high road, I’ll bitch about it on the radio.]

[UPDATE:  As it turns out, we didn’t tie.  Rosenthal won.  And I should have kept my damn mouth shut when I realized that he’d counted his victories incorrectly.]

Bills at Packers

Florio’s take:  In Week Two of the 2009 season, the Packers hosted an AFC team, and the AFC team stole a win.  In Win Two of the 2010 season, another AFC team comes to town.  But there’s a big difference between last year’s Bengals and this year’s Bills.  Even with Packers running back Ryan Grant done for the year, Green Bay has too much talent — and the Bills don’t have nearly enough.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 42, Bills 19.

Rosenthal’s take: This reminds me of the blowout specials Florio used to get to pick last year when we split the workload.  You could try to make a case for the Bills, but you’d be trying too hard.  Buffalo doesn’t have the receiver depth to test Green Bay’s secondary.  The Bills’ three-headed running game was oddly underused last week.  Their screens were predictable.  Holes closed on C.J. Spiller a lot faster than they did at Clemson or in the preseason.  Don’t expect daylight this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Packers 27, Bills 10.

Dolphins at Vikings

Florio’s take:  The Vikings’ offense and the Dolphins’ defense cancel each other out.  So this one will come down to the ability of the Minnesota defense to bottle up the Miami offense.  Given that the Bills were able to keep the attack largely in check last week, the Vikings should have no problems shutting them down.

Florio’s pick:  Vikings 24, Dolphins 12.

Rosenthal’s take: Miami’s defense was impressive in Buffalo.  Mike Nolan did a lot of fun things with Karlos Dansby and Cameron Wake; they can get pressure on Brett Favre. Even short a few players, this is an improved linebacker group.  Favre also may not be ready to take advantage of a Dolphins secondary that features Benny Sappy a little too prominently.  There’s an old axiom that you shouldn’t pick a team to cover the spread unless you think they can win. 5.5 points feels like too much.  So let’s just go all the way and take the Dolphins in an upset special.  (I changed this pick at the last minute, which is the kiss of death.)  [Editor’s note:  Hey, Rosey, if you’re gonna pick the upset, just pick the upset and be done with it.]

Rosenthal’s pick: Dolphins 23, Vikings 21.

Chiefs at Browns

Florio’s take:  With former Patriot Scott Pioli running the Chiefs and former Patriot turncoat Eric Mangini coaching the Browns, this one carries a strong undercurrent of hostility.  Then there’s the fact that Browns running back Jerome Harrison shredded the K.C. defense for 286 yards last December.  Look for the new-look Chiefs to bring their new attitude to Ohio, and to send the Browns to a loss in the second of two games that most expected Cleveland to win.

Florio’s pick:  Chiefs 20, Browns 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Remember all the positive energy in Kansas City on Monday night?  Imagine that, but the complete opposite happening in Cleveland if the Browns fall behind Sunday.  Jake Delhomme’s injury doesn’t hurt the Browns, though.  Seneca Wallace is different, and could force the Browns coaches to get creative with a roster that begs for creativity to make up for a lack of talent.  Eric Mangini can’t afford to lose the Belichick B-team Bowl after last week’s collapse in Tampa.  Romeo Crennel knows just how to lose in Cleveland.

Rosenthal’s pick: Browns 17, Chiefs 14.

Bears at Cowboys

Florio’s take:  The Bears lucked into a win at home and the Cowboys squandered a victory of their own on the road.  This week, the Cowboys head back to Dallas, 25 years after the Bears authored a 44-0 beatdown of the ‘Boys.  The Bears haven’t won in Big D since the year after that game — and their streak of futility will continue.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 24, Bears 10.

Rosenthal’s take: No clue what to make of the Bears after last week.   Jay Cutler moved the ball very well, Matt Forte is revived, and the defense stuffed Detroit all day.  Yet they still needed a lucky call to save them from an opening loss at home.  The Cowboys are easier to read.  Their offensive line has problems and they know it.  The defense is great.  Will the return of two injured, older starting lineman be enough to turn things around?  It’s enough this week.

Rosenthal’s pick: Cowboys 24, Bears 20.

Cardinals at Falcons

Florio’s take:  The Cards barely beat a still-bad Rams team last week, and the Falcons gave fits to the Steelers on their home field.  Atlanta realizes that the window will close quickly if they can’t keep pace with the Saints.  Besides, Falcons are far more menacing birds.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 28, Cardinals 20.

Rosenthal’s take: Arizona fans complaining about style points last week need to get a grip.  Kurt Warner has left the building.  This is a different Cardinals team, and they are going to have to win creatively while Derek Anderson figures things out. The guy led two impressive fourth-quarter drives last week and that will do for now.  Matt Ryan, on the other hand, has struggled to move the ball since the preseason.  I think Atlanta’s improved defense carries the day here.  Both these teams deserve to be 1-1. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Falcons 19, Cardinals 14. 

Buccaneers at Panthers

Florio’s take:  Since 2003, the Panthers have handled the Bucs on 11 of 14 occasions.  Though Tampa pulled off a minor surprise on Sunday against the Browns, the Panthers can be expected to take care of business on their own turf.  If they can’t, Carolina could be 0-5 at the bye.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 24, Buccaneers 14.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bucs have a golden opportunity to go 2-0, even if Panthers starting quarterback Matt Moore plays as expected despite a concussion last week.  Raheem Morris has the Bucs defense looking improved, like they did at the end of last year.  These two similar teams fly well below the NFL radar and got against current league norms.  They want to win with running, defense, and not screwing things up too badly passing the ball.  John Fox has more practice.  And better running backs. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Panthers 20, Bucs 13.

Eagles at Lions

Florio’s take:  With Mike Vick making his first start since 2006, the question becomes whether he can play like he did against the Packers, who weren’t prepared to face him, when facing a Lions team that knows Vick will be the guy.  Lions coach Jim Schwartz never has had to defend Vick; when Schwartz served as defensive coordinator for the Titans, Schwartz’s team was the last one to play the Falcons before Vick returned from a broken leg.  Look for Schwartz to try to keep Vick in the pocket in the hopes that he’ll be forced to throw — and that he’ll force a few mistakes.  And then Kevin Kolb will get “healthy” quickly.

Florio’s pick:  Lions 20, Eagles 13.

Rosenthal’s take: The battle of the tortured fan bases.  The rest of the world learned about what it meant to be a Lions fan this week.  Week One, full of hope, they lost their young franchise quarterback and a game in the most painful way possible.  The Lions have a vertical passing attack with the weakest-armed quarterback in the league in Shaun Hill.  Eagles fans have it pretty good, but they like drama.  They talked up Kevin Kolb all offseason, then gave up on him after 30 minutes.  It’s hard to blame them after the way Michael Vick played last week.  Vick will put it to the Lions just to make this whole situation more ridiculous.

Rosenthal’s pick: Eagles 27, Lions 16.

Ravens at Bengals

Florio’s take:  The Bengals somehow swept the Ravens last year.  It won’t be happening again in 2010.  Baltimore looks as good as they ever have looked, and the Bengals looked nothing like they looked a year ago.  Look for Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis to continue to drop the hammer on anyone who looks in his direction.

Florio’s pick:  Ravens 23, Bengals 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Bengals defense said they were confused early against the Patriots.  So were guys like Tedy Bruschi that picked Cincinnati to go to the Super Bowl.  At least the Bengals passing attack showed signs of life after the early disaster.  It may have been garbage time, but Carson Palmer couldn’t put up big stats any time last year.  Unlike the Jets, Cincinnati has the weapons to take advantage of Baltimore’s secondary.

Rosenthal’s pick: Bengals 27, Ravens 23.

Steelers at Titans

Florio’s take:  Last year, these two teams kicked off a season that many assumed would end in a playoff rematch.  Neither qualified for the postseason.  This year, both look like they’re on their way to another trip to January.  It all comes down to the Steelers defense against the Titans offense, and the Steelers defense is simply too tough.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 13, Titans 9.

Rosenthal’s take: The Titans were my pick to win the AFC South in the PFT Season Preview, so I’m basically going to take them at home unless they are facing the ’85 Bears.  The Steelers defense isn’t at that level, but it could wind up being the best in 2010.  Pittsburgh can neutralize Chris Johnson — they held him to 57 yards in last year’s opener.  So it will come down Vince Young versus Dennis Dixon and Young should be up for the challenge. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Titans 14, Steelers 10.

Seahawks at Broncos

Florio’s take:  Former Broncos quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates, who was essentially run off when Josh McDaniels became the head coach, returns to town with a team that unexpectedly won in Week One by 25 points.  But it’s one thing to put a pasting on the 49ers at home in the season opener, it’s quite another to do it in Denver.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 24, Seahawks 17.

Rosenthal’s take: These teams that are a total mystery, especially the Seahawks.  Can Seattle play so inspired without the 12th man?  What is this team good at precisely?  It looks like Pete Carroll is going to make this defense better and more interesting.  The offense has work to do.  In Denver, I know what I’m getting from Kyle Orton and his band of merry secondary receivers.  The Broncos can beat suspect NFC West teams at home.

Rosenthal’s pick: Broncos 28, Seahawks 21.

Rams at Raiders

Florio’s take:  The Rams looked better than expected in Week One; the Raiders looked far worse.  But Oakland is at home and the Rams are still learning how to win.  Though neither team will be embarrassed, look for the Raiders to take care of business in the Black Hole.

Florio’s pick: Raiders 17, Rams 10.

Rosenthal’s take: The optimism stops here for one of these teams. The Raiders wouldn’t be able to sell progress after a blowout loss on the road and a home loss to the Rams.  Sam Bradford has given the Rams hope for the future, but the present looks awfully bleak if they go 0-2 with a soft opening schedule.  Two Raiders, including Jason Campbell, alluded to being overconfident heading into the Titans game.  You know, because of their draft grades.  Losing 11 or more games for seven years hasn’t humbled this franchise.  Maybe losing to the Rams will. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Rams 21, Raiders 17.

Texans at Redskins

Florio’s take:  The reunion of the Shanahans and Gary Kubiak adds intrigue to a game that suddenly has become one of the best of the weekend give the teams’ performances in Week One.  We’ll quickly find out whether Houston tailback Arian Foster rolled up all those yards because he played against a bad run defense or because the Texans have become the ultimate “pick your poison” pass/run attack.  And we’ll find out whether the Redskins’ offense can score a touchdown or two without having it handed to them.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 27, Redskins 24.

Rosenthal’s take: Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak are road favorites coming off a huge win. This is exactly the game they usually trip over, which worries me. Also worrisome:  Every aspect of the Redskins offense except their tackle play.  (How odd is that?)  Washington just doesn’t have enough firepower to hang with Houston, who should give Arian Foster a break and only rush him 25 times this week. 

Rosenthal’s pick: Texans 24, Redskins 17.

Patriots at Jets

Florio’s take:  During an offseason of incessant Jets chirping, the Patriots have remained largely silent.  Apart from Tom Brady’s acknowledgement that he hates the Jets, the Pats have avoided the trash talk.  Instead, the Patriots have saved it for the field, and the Jets may have a hard time saving themselves as the Pats make the only kind of statement that truly matters in football.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 35, Jets 13.

Rosenthal’s take: What goes up in the NFL usually comes down. And vice versa.  An overconfident team loses one week, gets ripped, and plays hungry the next time out.  Last year, Rex Ryan called the Jets’ Week Two game against the Patriots the team’s Super Bowl.  This one is far more important.  The Jets know they can’t go 0-2 at home to start the year. The Jets defense still looks great. The offense can find a way on the ground.  Don’t crown the Patriots yet; this will be a season-long battle.



Rosenthal’s pick: Jets 20, Patriots 16.

Jaguars at Chargers

Florio’s take:  Most expected one of these teams to be 1-0 and the other to be 0-1; few expected that the Jaguars would be undefeated and that the Chargers would be winless.  Though it may feel like a home game for the Jaguars since the stadium will be partially empty (rim shot!), the Chargers have the horses to get back to 1-1 against a Jaguars team that overachieved against the Broncos.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 30, Jaguars 21.

Rosenthal’s take: The Chargers talked all offseason about avoiding yet another slow start to the year, and then slogged through a loss in the Kansas City rain.  Weather should be more conducive to vertical passing in San Diego this week. I don’t trust either secondary or either pass rush, even if Aaron Kampman looks like a fine pickup.  I’ll take Philip Rivers in a shootout over David Garrard every time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Chargers 34, Jaguars 26.
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Giants at Colts

Florio’s take:  Peyton Manning has started 0-1 only three times in his 13-year career.  Only once, as a rookie in 1998, has Peyton Manning begun a season at 0-2.  This time around, Peyton takes an 0-1 mark into his second career game against his kid brother.  And more importantly than not going 0-2 to Peyton will be avoiding losing to Eli.  Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 31, Giants 19.

Rosenthal’s take: Both brothers have grown up a lot since the last Manning Bowl.  Peyton won a Super Bowl and did the United Way spot on Saturday Night Live.  Eli won a Super Bowl, got significantly better after the title, and adjusted his Southern fraternity mop top.  That makes this a fair fight, especially if the Giants pass rush has truly reawakened.  Fair, but not equal.  Peyton is still the one with MVPs and Peyton doesn’t start the year 0-2.

Rosenthal’s pick: Colts 34, Giants 30.

Saints at 49ers

Florio’s take:  Rarely if ever has a team with high expectations imploded as quickly as the 49ers.  They open their home schedule with a visit from the Saints, who will have had the longest possible non-bye-week time to prepare for the game, playing on a Thursday and next on the following Monday, 11 days later.  After the game, Niners coach Mike Singletary will be thanking Sean Payton in the same way Singletary thanked Pete Carroll.  

Florio’s pick:  Saints 30, 49ers 13.

Rosenthal’s take: Weirdly dangerous game for the Saints against an ornery 49ers team.  New Orleans fans don’t like that I questioned their run defense this week, but one game doesn’t erase all of last season and a shaky linebacker group.  Luckily, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn’t have to get too creative to stop Alex Smith and the 49ers passing attack.  Load up the box, and dare Smith to beat you.  The Saints are in Payton/Brees version 5.0.  The essentially can do anything they choose with a veteran group of receivers.  The 49ers can’t get the play calls in on time.

Rosenthal’s pick: Saints 27, 49ers 21.

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NFL morning after: Two-point play could change two seasons

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 4: Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates after the game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 4, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

One of the most fun things that can happen on an NFL Sunday is seeing something you’ve never seen before. And did we ever see that yesterday in Atlanta.

For the first time in NFL history, a defensive two-point conversion proved to be the game-winning score in a one-point game. I love the new two-point conversion rule, which allows the defense to score two points by running back a blocked extra point or offensive turnover, but when it passed last season, I figured it was something we might wait a decade to see decide a game.

Instead, yesterday in Atlanta it did decide the game. And it may have changed the course of both teams’ seasons.

When the Falcons scored a touchdown to take a 28-27 lead over the Chiefs with less than five minutes remaining, it appeared that they had taken control. They then lined up to go for two, and that was the right decision, as it gave them a chance to take a lead big enough that a field goal wouldn’t beat them. But Chiefs safety Eric Berry stepped in front of Matt Ryan’s pass, intercepted it and raced all the way to the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Chiefs the 29-28 margin they would win by.

That was the first time a team has ever won by a point on a defensive two-point conversion. Add in the blocked extra point return that gave the Broncos a 25-23 win over the Saints earlier this season, and we’ve now had two games changed by that seemingly relatively minor rules change.

In the case of Chiefs-Falcons, it could easily change both teams’ seasons as well. Both teams are locked in close, competitive playoff races, and it’s entirely possible that we’ll look back at the end of the season and say that one two-point play was the reason the Falcons missed the playoffs, or the reason the Chiefs won the AFC West and earned a bye week rather than just getting into the playoffs as a wild card.

The whole point of the new extra point rule was to make extra points competitive football plays again, and part of a competitive football play is that the defense has an opportunity to score. Adopting that rule was a great move by the NFL, and it made for a great ending in Atlanta on Sunday.

Here are my other thoughts from yesterday’s action in the NFL:

Jeff Fisher gets a new contract? Really? The news that broke Sunday morning that Rams coach Jeff Fisher has signed a contract extension is baffling to me. Shouldn’t a coach have to win to get a new contract? Yesterday’s 26-10 loss to the Patriots clinched Fisher his seventh consecutive non-winning season. His last winning season was with the 2008 Titans. And shouldn’t a coach have to show progress to get a new contract? Fisher’s record in his first season as the Rams’ coach was 7-8-1, and he still hasn’t improved upon that in five years on the job. It’s shocking that Rams owner Stan Kroenke is OK with this.

‘Member the Wentz Wagon? Early in the season, Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz was the toast of the NFL, with even President Obama and Vice President Biden singing his praises. Lately he’s been a mess: Yesterday he had about the least-impressive 308-yard game you could imagine, needing 60 passes to get there and throwing three interceptions, with more potential interceptions dropped. Don’t get me wrong, it’s way too early to say Wentz won’t be a good NFL quarterback. But it was also way too early to proclaim him a future star when he was being showered with praise a couple months ago.

There’s a major downside to NFL Sunday Ticket. I’ve had DirecTV for 13 years, and as long as DirecTV has a monopoly on the NFL Sunday Ticket package, I’ll keep it. Having Sunday Ticket revolutionizes your experience as an NFL fan. But there is a major down side to the service: DirecTV’s signal is dependent on good weather. Yesterday in Chicago, where I live, my signal was out for most of the day because of some light snow. I was far from the only one; many fans posted on social media that their DirecTV went out because of snow in their area. Sports fans are so accustomed to technology improving our fan experience in ways we never could have imagined a few decades ago that it sometimes feels like a rude awakening to realize that there are, in fact, limitations to this technology.

Colin Kaepernick had one of the worst games in NFL history. In a loss to the Bears yesterday, Kaepernick was benched in the fourth quarter for Blaine Gabbert — but not before he got sacked five times, while managing just four passing yards. With that stat line, Kaepernick became the first quarterback in NFL history to get sacked five times while gaining fewer than five passing yards. It was a horrendous performance, and for those trying to excuse Kaepernick by blaming the snow, I’ll point out that Bears quarterback Matt Barkley turned in a good game in the same weather. Kaepernick was very, very bad, on a day that started with reports that he was looking to strike it rich in free agency after the season.

The Jaguars remain a mess. I feel like I’m flogging a dead horse when I write about the Jaguars, but every week they find a new way to lose and lose ugly. Yesterday they lost to the Broncos even though the Broncos punted a whopping 11 times. Jacksonville’s offense is so incompetent that you can beat them even if you keep giving them the ball because you know it’s just a matter of time before Blake Bortles throws another pick-six. This team is downright awful.

The Lions won comfortably, for once. After trailing in the fourth quarter of their first 11 games, the Lions maintained a lead throughout the fourth quarter in New Orleans yesterday, improving to 8-4 in the process and firmly establishing themselves as the favorites in the NFC North. If the Lions beat the Bears at home next week and the Packers at home in Week 17, they’d clinch the division regardless of any other results the rest of the season.

I liked the individuality on players’ shoes. Most of the time, the league strictly limits personal messages from players. But yesterday, the league let players put individual messages on their shoes. I thought it was great, especially how many players chose to promote charities they’ve worked with and donated money to. I don’t know what horrible thing Roger Goodell imagines will happen if he allows players to do that every week, but I’d like to see the league relax its uniform rules. The league was wise to make extra points and two-point conversions more interesting, and now it would be wise to make the players’ uniforms more interesting.

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Rivera: Newton was benched for one series for dress code violation

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 03:  Head coach Ron Rivera of the Carolina Panthers watches on as Cam Newton #1 walks over to talk during their game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on November 3, 2013 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

After Sunday night’s 40-7 loss to the Seahawks, Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters that quarterback Cam Newton had been benched for one series for a dress code violation as the team traveled to Seattle.

That one series became one play, and that one play went like a lot of the others did for the Panthers on a disastrous Sunday night. Derek Anderson’s pass on the first play of the game went off the hands of Mike Tolbert and it was intercepted by Seahawks linebacker Mike Morgan, leading to an immediate touchdown for the Seahawks.

Newton replaced Anderson the next time the Panthers had the ball and played the rest of the game, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from getting run out of the stadium.

Word of Newton’s dress-code violation was reported on the NBC broadcast of the game, then confirmed by Rivera after the game. Rivera said the decision to not start Newton was solely his own, and that he wanted to treat Newton like he would treat every other player on the team.

In his postgame press conference, Newton told reporters he was benched for not wearing a tie to the stadium and said he didn’t have a proper/shirt tie combo to wear as the team traveled to Seattle. The Panthers spent the week in Northern California after playing the Raiders last week.

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Sunday Night wrap-up: Seahawks undress Panthers, no tie this week

Seattle Seahawks' Thomas Rawls (34) leaps over Carolina Panthers' Daryl Worley to score a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP

The Seahawks survived this year while their quarterback was ailing.

Now we’ll see if they can survive the loss of the quarterback of their secondary.

By pounding the Panthers 40-7 Sunday (and it wasn’t really that close), the Seahawks staked their claim to the second spot on the NFC playoff ladder, which would mean a bye and a home game in the divisional round.

But with safety Earl Thomas leaving the game with a broken bone in his leg, the Seahawks are going to have to change yet another tire on a moving car. His playmaking in the middle of the field is something that’s going to be hard to replace, for a team that has replaced so many parts this year.

With Russell Wilson playing through a number of injuries early, they were able to stay somewhat afloat. And while their defense isn’t going to be bad all of a sudden, Thomas is the kind of player you can’t just replace easily, if at all.

It wasn’t a deciding factor against the Panthers, who have gone from 15-1 to 4-8. And Seattle’s schedule over the next month (at the Packers and then a lap through the NFC West) gives them a chance to adjust. But the Seahawks are going to miss Thomas in a major way.

Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:

1. For all the weird stuff Cam Newton has worn, his one-play (or one series) suspension was apparently for a dress code violation.

It’s the latest strange turn in a strange year for the reigning MVP, who hasn’t had much of a chance to succeed this season with all the injuries in front of him.

But his wardrobe is ostensibly something he can control, and he apparently didn’t. Stay tuned, in a season gone wrong, this could become messy.

You don’t just bench a starting quarterback without creating ripples, and how Newton handles the post-game (which hasn’t always been a strength) is going to be as important or more than the result of any one game in a lost season.

2. The Seahawks have plenty of issues of their own, and even the temporary loss of running back Thomas Rawls to be checked for a concussion underscored one of their biggest.

After Marshawn Lynch retired, they have struggled to run consistently.

Granted, their own problems on the offensive line contribute to that, but they haven’t been able to keep a healthy back on the field. And with quarterback Wilson’s injury issues keeping him from contributing to the run game early this year, the Seahawks are constantly adjusting on offense.

If Rawls can stay on the field they ought to be OK. His 106 yards and two touchdowns against the Panthers were a reflection of the opponent as well as his own game (the Panthers rolled over shortly after the half). But if Rawls misses time for any reason down the stretch, it’s going to be hard for the Seahawks offense, which depends on somebody being able to move the ball on the ground.

3. The Panthers are clearly broken at the moment, but assuming theirs is an untalented roster would be a mistake also.

There’s still plenty of young talent there, beginning with Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, which is a pretty good place for any team to start.

But the Panthers are going to have to do business a little differently this offseason. They never spent the money they saved when they pulled the franchise tag from cornerback Josh Norman. It was earmarked for defensive tackle Kawann Short’s new deal, but that never got done, leading to perhaps their next tag battle.

There’s cap room to spend, but General Manager Dave Gettleman’s going to need to spend it to justify a decision that clearly backfired in the short term. To not backfill with some solid starters would be to waste a group of veteran players (Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil, Greg Olsen) who are closer to the ends of their careers than the beginnings.

4. It’s hard to read too much into a blowout, but it does feel like the Seahawks are starting to figure out what to do with tight end Jimmy Graham.

Because of injuries and the transition coming from New Orleans, it’s taken some time for both sides to adjust, but he’s beginning to become a more consistent factor.

5. The Panthers need offensive line help in the worst way, and could justify addressing it with their looming Top 10 draft pick.

But they also need to restock their defensive end position the way Gettleman loaded up on defensive tackles in 2013, when he doubled up on Star Lotuleleli and Short with his first- and second-rounders.

Honestly, the Panthers haven’t reloaded or rebounded from Greg Hardy’s departure in 2014. Charles Johnson has been a very good player for a very long time, but he’s declining and couldn’t run because of a hamstring injury. Their leading sacker was inactive (Mario Addison) and they’re filling in with a bunch of guys.

They need impact rushers, and they need them in bulk if they want to get back to the level of the Seahawks defense, or their own standard.

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Tampa-Dallas moves to prime time in Week 15

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1:  Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys hands the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott #21in the first half of the game agains the Minnesota Vikings on December 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL needs more Cowboy. And it’s getting it.

The league has flexed the Week 15 game between Tampa Bay and Dallas to Sunday Night Football, pitting the 7-5 Buccaneers against the 11-1 Cowboys.

The Cowboys could have the NFC East wrapped up by then, but the No. 1 seed in the conference likely will still be in doubt. Even if the Cowboys aren’t playing for anything by then, they’re still the Cowboys. And they draw in stand-alone games like no other team in sports.

The Buccaneers are tied with the Falcons at the top of the NFC South, and Tampa has now won four games in a row, including victories over the Chiefs, Seahawks, and Chargers.

The decision relegates Bengals-Steelers out of prime time and all the way back to 1:00 p.m. ET.

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Unusual Earl Thomas tweet violates league policy, but he apparently has bigger concerns

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 04:  Free safety Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks leaves the field after getting injured against the Carolina Panthers at CenturyLink Field on December 4, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

Players aren’t permitted to use social media during games. But when a guy is creating the impression that he may never play another game, compliance with league policy likely isn’t a major concern.

A lot is running through my mind including retirement,” Thomas said on Twitter during Sunday night’s game against the Panthers.

While Thomas may simply be tweeting out of the sense of gloom that comes from a negative diagnosis and prognosis, it’s an eye opener. And it suggests that Thomas won’t be back for a while, at a minimum.

The 2010 first-round pick hadn’t missed a single game at the NFL level until last weekend at Tampa. He was carted off on Sunday night with a leg injury, and he was on crutches after leaving the X-ray room.

According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Thomas has a broken leg.

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Julius Peppers moves into Top 5 on NFL career sack list

Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler is sacked by Green Bay Packers' Julius Peppers during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) AP

Packers linebacker Julius Peppers will turn 37 next month, but he’s still adding to his Hall of Fame résumé.

Peppers sacked Brock Osweiler in today’s win over the Texans, giving him 142.5 sacks in his career. That moves him ahead of Michael Strahan and gives Peppers sole possession of the fifth-most sacks in the NFL since the league began keeping sacks as an official statistic in 1982.

Everyone ahead of Peppers on the all-time list is in the Hall of Fame: Bruce Smith is first with 200 sacks, Reggie White is second with 198, Kevin Greene is third with 160 and Chris Doleman is fourth with 150.5.

Peppers isn’t getting quite as much playing time this year as he did last year: In 2015 he was in on about two-thirds of the Packers’ defensive snaps, while in 2016 he’s playing about half of the Packers’ defensive snaps. But despite the reduction in playing time, Peppers has 6.5 sacks this season. He’s still a big part of the Green Bay defense, and he isn’t giving any indication that he’ll have to retire any time soon.

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Thomas Rawls checked for a concussion, Earl Thomas seems worried

Seattle Seahawks' Thomas Rawls breaks free on a touchdown run against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear) AP

The Seahawks and Panthers have played plenty of hard-hitting games over the years.

This one is going to leave a mark on both teams.

Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls is being evaluated for a concussion, the latest in a string of high-profile players who aren’t leaving this game intact.

His absence leaves an already thin backfield in tatters, though the Seahawks are out to a 20-7 lead just before halftime.

NBC’s Michele Tafoya just reported that Seahawks safety Earl Thomas left the X-ray room on crutches, though his status for a return to the game has remained questionable with a left lower leg injury.

But Thomas just sent a tweet that certainly makes it seem like he’s not coming back tonight.

The Panthers are without veteran defensive end Charles Johnson, who left with a hamstring injury.

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Rams won’t comment on details of Jeff Fisher’s contract

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the Los Angeles Rams walks on the field before the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) Getty Images

It took the Rams months to leak (and then to confirm) the news that coach Jeff Fisher has a new contract. More months and weeks likely will go by before the team leaks and/or confirms any details about the deal.

Asked specifically about the question of whether Fisher’s new deal contains a one-year escape clause for the team, Rams COO Kevin Demoff declined to address any aspect of the contract.

Some league insiders who had been saying that Fisher has had a new contract in place for months also believe that the deal (reported as a two-year extension) gives the Rams the ability to pull the plug after one year, technically making it a one-year extension with a one-year option held by the team.

Regardless of whether it’s a one-year or two-year extension, the fact that Fisher got the contract before the season began makes it possible that owner Stan Kroenke will decide to move on after 2016, if for example the team finishes with a 4-12 or 5-11 record.

Asked by reporters on Sunday whether Fisher expects to be the coach in 2017, he didn’t dismiss the question as ridiculous in light of his newly-disclosed extension.

“Yes, I do,” Fisher said. “I’ve got some work to do here to finish up strong. You know, we have some personnel issues to deal with and get better. And we have some issues to deal with from an offensive side of the ball.”

This response implies that if the team doesn’t “finish up strong” Kroenke could decide to make a change. If the new contract has only one year guaranteed, the buyout would necessarily be lower.

And with the Rams becoming able to sell premium products at their new stadium no later than February 15, 2017, a buyout for Fisher could become a loss leader for Kroenke.

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Trading injuries, then big plays, Seahawks go up 17-7

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Free safety Earl Thomas #29 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

This Panthers-Seahawks game certainly doesn’t lack for subplots.

But there’s a pretty insane game going on at the same time.

Immediately after Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was carted off with an apparent lower leg injury, the Panthers cut the Seahawks lead to 10-7 when previously benched Cam Newton aired out a 55-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn Jr., who caught it.

Roll that around in your head for a minute.

And then the Seahawks went back up 17-7 when Thomas Rawls popped a 45-yard touchdown run.

The plays have been coming as quickly as the injuries and the storylines, as Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has also hobbled off with a hamstring. Like Thomas, he’s questionable to return.

No matter who’s left or who wins, this game is certainly going to be exciting the rest of the night.

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Seahawks take advantage, up 10-0 on Panthers

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throws before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear) AP

Well, Cam Newton is back on the field. But he’s in a hole, already.

The reigning MVP has returned to the field after his one-play benching, but he’s in a 10-0 hole at Seattle.

The Panthers started Derek Anderson for what was termed a coaches decision, but after he threw an interception that led to a quick field goal, the Seahawks have stretched their lead to 10-0 on Thomas Rawls‘ touchdown run.

Whether or not we get a clear explanation for what Newton did to get benched for a down remains to be seen, but the Panthers generally struggle offensively when they can’t play from ahead, which could make this one fascinating for a number of reasons.

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Blake Bortles: This season is “the biggest nightmare possible”

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 04:   Blake Bortles #5 of the Jacksonville Jaguars passes against the Denver Broncos at EverBank Field on December 4, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles‘ bad 2016 season may have hit a new low on Sunday.

Bortles was intercepted twice by the Broncos and lost a fumble in a 20-10 loss that saw him complete 19-of-42 passes to register the lowest quarterback rating of his career. One of the interceptions was returned for a touchdown, making it three times in the last four weeks that a defense has done that against the Jags.

Bortles has now thrown 15 interceptions and lost four fumbles for the 2-10 Jaguars in a season fit for a horror movie.

“It’s the biggest nightmare possible,” Bortles said after Sunday’s 20-10 loss to Denver in which he committed three turnovers. “But what are you going to do about it? You can’t sit there in a corner and pout. You can’t blame people. You can’t feel sorry for yourself because I think all that’s going to do is affect the way I play.”

Bortles has been dealing with a shoulder injury, but said that wasn’t the cause of his problems. The issues have appeared more mechanical and Bortles has brought in outside help during the season in an attempt to get back on track. It hasn’t worked and it feels like there’s a pretty good chance that it’s going to be up to a new coaching staff to correct them come 2017.

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Jay Gruden not happy after latest loss

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 04:  Head coach Jay Gruden of the Washington Redskins watches warm ups prior to a game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on December 4, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) Getty Images

Two weeks ago tonight, Washington obliterated Green Bay to move to 6-3-1. Since then, Washington has lost at Dallas and now at Arizona and coach Jay Gruden isn’t happy about it.

Via Mike Jones of the Washington Post, Gruden could be heard yelling at the team after the 31-23 loss to the Cardinals. Gruden specifically was complaining that the team hadn’t given its all during the week.

The loss, which has dropped Washington to 6-5-1, will make it harder to get back to the postseason. Paraphrasing Jim Mora’s epic rant from 15 years ago, Gruden told reporters, “There’s no talk about the playoffs. We’re just trying to win the next game.”

The next game will be at Philadelphia, followed by a home game againt the Panthers, a trip to Chicago, and a regular-season finale vs. the Giants.

 

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Derek Anderson starts instead of Cam Newton

Carolina Panthers v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The first surprise for the Panthers Sunday night came on the first snap.

Derek Anderson started at quarterback in place of reigning MVP Cam Newton, and promptly threw an interception on the first play of the game.

According to Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review, Newton is healthy and it was a coaches decision.

That may have to do with their ability to protect him, as their offensive line has been scrambled by injuries, and they have a center making his first NFL start among the other switches.

Still, it’s a surprise, as Newton is ostensibly healthy.

UPDATE 8:45 p.m. ET: Newton returned to the field for the second series, which makes this an apparent benching.

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Chip Kelly doesn’t commit to Colin Kaepernick next week

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 04:  Mitch Unrein #98 of the Chicago Bears attempts to sack Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers, but is held back by  Daniel Kilgore #67 in the third quarter at Soldier Field on December 4, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

The 49ers benched quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday. It’s unclear whether he’ll remain on the bench next Sunday against the Jets.

“We haven’t had any discussions about it,” coach Chip Kelly told reporters after the loss in Chicago regarding whether Kaepernick will return in Week 14. “It was my decision to make and made a move to see if we can get a spark and to see where we were. At that point of time of the game we were down a couple of scores and obviously we got throw it to see if we can get a spark for the team. There are no permanent decisions.”

Still, it sounds as if Kaepernick will be back, given Kelly’s explanation for making the change.

“I thought we needed a spark on offense and needed to get something going, give Blaine [Gabbert] a shot at throwing,” Kelly said. “Knew we were going to be throwing every down, so give Blaine a shot. That was it, nothing more.”

Kaepernick said he was “surprised” to be benched, and he sidestepped the question of whether he believes he’ll play next week.

“That’s not my decision,” Kaepernick said. “My feelings on it really don’t matter at this point. I’m just going to do everything I can to make sure I’m prepared.”

The 49ers have now lost 11 games in a row, following a Week One win over the Rams. The visit from the Jets, who’ll be crossing the country on a short week, could be their best chance to avoid matching the 2001 Panthers, who won in Week One and then lost 15 in a row.

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Apparently overdue for a decision on his status, Aldon Smith is ready to go

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Aldon Smith #99 of the Oakland Raiders looks on during the second half of their NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at O.co Coliseum on September 13, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders and defensive end Aldon Smith continue to be at the mercy of Commissioner Roger Goodell, even at a time when Goodell seems to be in violation of the relevant terms of the substance-abuse policy.

For a player who is banished from the league with the ability to apply for reinstatement after one year, the policy itself says nothing about the timetable for making a decision. However, Appendix B to the policy provides in part as follows: “All individuals involved in the process will take steps to enable the Commissioner to render a decision within 60 days of the receipt of the application [for reinstatement].”

Curiously, the policy doesn’t expressly state that a decision will be or shall be made within 60 days after application. Instead, it only requires the persons responsible for setting the table for the Commissioner’s decision to enable him to do so within 60 days after the application.

Aldon Smith applied for reinstatement on October 3. The 60-day deadline (if it’s really a deadline) came and went on Friday, with no decision made. As a result, a source with knowledge of the process tells PFT that a decision is expected soon.

Complicating matters for Smith and the Raiders is the fact that they play on Thursday night, in Kansas City. Smith will be ready to suit up and play, if he’s given the green light to return, a source tells PFT.

Whenever the decision is made, the Commissioner will make it in his “sole discretion.” Given the language of Appendix B, it seems that the decision should have been made already. At a minimum, the league should address whether it believes the 60-day provision requires a decision within that window.

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